Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Would That Be Real Chinese Food?

So, what is real Chinese food? That was the question around our dinner table last night, a question generated by yesterday's post about religious poetry written by an atheist (what is real religious poetry?).

Several factors exist for determining the authenticity of any cuisine. Recipes. Ingredients. Techniques. Utensils. Cooking methods. Cooks. Geography.

For purists, surely real Chinese food could only be had in China, with Chinese ingredients, prepared by Chinese cooks (are ethnic Chinese from Vietnam authentic Chinese cooks, or authentic Vietnamese cooks? or both? or neither?), using Chinese techniques and equipment.

Are all prepared dishes fake Chinese that fall short of that exact combination of factors ? At what point is a dish not Chinese? How many factors must be absent and to what degree?

Discussions about authenticity - authentic patriots, authentic believers, authentic men, authentic women, authentic religious poems, authentic cuisines - are all fraught with similar questions about absences, presences, variations, and combinations.

A discussion about the fake and the real should also include blogs and bloggers, especially on a blog! I was rightly reminded of this by my fellow blogger lifeshighway, who commented that in the blogging world fakery abounds: "fact and fiction are blurred to the point of the fantastical." Readers can become emotionally involved with a persona who is not the real writer. And I'm sure people are hurt as well.

One of my points from yesterday's post applies here. Blogging, indeed anything interactive on the internet, has no tradition as yet. Some expectations carry over from other areas - news is news, fiction is fiction, fraud is fraud. But with interactive forms, our expectations about levels of authenticity have not had decades or longer to take shape and help shape these new genres.

The possibility for harm with the religious poem by an atheist seems negligible - a reader enjoys (or dislikes) a poem in a publication, and that's probably the end of it. Same thing with fiction and memoir. But  interaction between people directly (IM, email, texting) or indirectly (blogs) opens up more opportunities for engagement and thus many kinds of harm, from minor hurt feelings to life-changing situations. Perhaps we expect certitude, when, with time, the expectation will be to expect fantasy. We might do well to presume fantasy as a provisional stance.

We make the distinction between what is fake and what is authentic all the time and about extremely serious and extremely trivial issues. It's worth thinking about.

I'm reminded of an old TV ad for video cassette tape.   "Is it real or is it Memorex?"


Pearl said...

Who has the right to speak? Ethically one doesn't talk if one doesn't know of what one speaks.

I'd rather, long-term, hear from someone who cares about and knows a subject but sputters and stammers but short-term, I'd rather hear someone who speaks eloquently but ultimately wastes my time by not knowing their stuff.

People will filter out the made up stuff from say, "historical fiction" but why muddy truth unnecessarily?

Who can call themselves "in the know"?

When is it truly "Chinese food". The "Chinese, Italian and Canadian foods" signs on restaurants often give me a pause. What's the distinction?

We "have to" categorize like "stand behind the uncool fence" or the cool fence. http://comics.com/pearls_before_swine/2009-10-04/

Yes, complex issue. People are gullible, want to believe all is truth.

ChrisJ said...


Maybe it's a security thing; we need to believe. Or maybe we need to believe that we are discerning. But, yes, it is complex.

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ChrisJ said...


Glad you found it helpful.

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